In my limited years of life and spiritual development, I’ve realized the hardest question to answer is often, if not always, the one that comes to mind first, that allows us to acquire a greater understanding of our world; it is also the same question that torments us, that epitomizes our impotent frustration, anger and disbelief, particularly in light of the heartbreaking events like those that we all witnessed in Oak Creek:
Throughout my four years of involvement with the House of Peace, a Capuchin Franciscan Ministry and Community Center on the north side of Milwaukee, I was exposed to various opportunities for interreligious dialogue, mostly in the form of Interfaith Youth Cafes. Several times throughout the year, teens from myriad religious denominations within the Greater Milwaukee Area would meet at a particular group’s place of worship to discuss the similarities and differences within a wide range of topics/aspects of our beliefs. Of course, we would get a firsthand glimpse into many of the facets of what our hosts believed and the manner in which they practiced their faith.
About a year ago, I had the honor of visiting the Sikh Temple in Brookfield. While I had already gone to many of these cafes, I couldn’t help but feel nervous. I had frankly never heard of Sikhism, so to enter into their place of worship without any idea of their customs or what to expect was unnerving.
All that dissipated the moment I entered the doors of their gurdwara. I honestly don’t remember much of the dialogue that transpired that day, but what remains vividly in my mind. and still doesn’t fail to amaze me. are the people.
Their friendliness, keenness to speak about their faith, enthusiasm to learn about our own beliefs, not to mention their eagerness to be hospitable were beyond remarkable. They made every effort to allow us strangers, most of whom shared my lack of any interaction with the faith, to feel comfortable, to sense that for us this, too, was a place of peace, of community and of reverence.
Even while partaking in one of their prayer sessions one could, without understanding the language, feel the beauty, power and meaning of their words. It was more than evident that they truly lived out their faith’s most fundamental tenets of equality, peace and human dignity.
It pained me not only to hear of the tragedy, but, even more so, to hear that these same gracious and kind people were the ones that had experienced it. Throughout that Sunday morning, I struggled to find words. Even through all that emotional chaos, that same question couldn’t help but come to focus.
No one deserves to live through these tragedies; this community, perhaps most of anyone, welcomed all and would never seek any harm to others.
If we were capable of finding or crafting the answer to that question, our lives, in some respect, would be easier to live, through its joys and horrors. And yet, it is at that point that we would also lose the essence of our faith, of what it means to believe. The question holds with it the mystery, the beauty behind believing, hoping and, of course, living.
We will never have an answer to why this tragedy occurred. This doesn’t bother me. In fact, I stopped worrying about it mere minutes after I heard the news. Instead, I found it necessary to see what we could do to help the Sikh community, and the entire Oak Creek community.
It’s only healthy to see the good that inevitably stemmed from that day. We, as a collective city, state and country, are now finally aware of a Sikh community who are incredibly devoted citizens and wonderful people who live in our neighborhoods. We once again are witnesses to the greatest of the human heart through the heroism of the police officers, the victims inside, and, of course, the collective desire to share in the grief of our neighbors and friends.
In that respect, our actions in the immediate aftermath made me incredibly proud to be a part of this Wisconsin community. Even in the midst of such pain and suffering, we held a singular communal hope that, regardless of the past and regardless of our lack of answers, there will be a brighter and peaceful tomorrow.
(Espino, a 2011 graduate of Marquette University High School, Milwaukee, is studying economics at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. His home parish is St. Vincent de Paul, Milwaukee. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)